Engage donors by telling your organization’s story

Dr. Seuss could tell a story. So can Stephen King. For me, Harper Lee remains at the top of my list of storytellers. I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” while in junior high school, and the story she told about racism still resonates more than 35 years later.

Sharing a story can send a powerful message. Stories put social issues in perspective and give readers a call to action. Stories about overcoming tragedy inspire us. Some stories even make us laugh.

Religious and other nonprofit organizations have strong stories to tell. They resonate because, most often, these stories are about overcoming adversity or a call to help others. I suggest that leaders of these organizations tell those stories when seeking financial support from prospective donors. Too often, fundraising materials only state the need – and don’t put that need in perspective. The best way to illustrate the need is by telling a story. And be sure to include those who benefit from your organization’s efforts in those stories. They often are in the best position to tell them.

Brian Klems of Writer’s Digest explains that a story should have three parts: origination, conflict and resolution. Set the stage. Share the struggle. Provide the outcome, which is often positive and sometimes poignant.

A campaign manager recently told the story of a children’s choir director to illustrate her parish’s need for a music practice room. The youngsters practiced each Wednesday, and the director often scrambled to find a room for the weekly sessions. She often reserved the bride’s room just so her choir members had a restroom to use. The parish’s adult choir director faced the same challenges for space, sometimes opting for his musicians and vocalists to practice in the nursery.

This story had an origination – the parish’s music program. It had conflict – limited space to practice. And it could have an eventual resolution – a practice room – if parishioners respond to their pastor’s request for financial support.

The same campaign manager told the story, which was featured in the parish’s bulletin, about a founding parishioner who regretted that the southeast entrance to the sanctuary wasn’t finished during construction. His wife likened using this entrance to walking through the backdoor of a garage that is dark and cramped. Origination. Conflict. Resolution – again at least the possibility of a new entrance through support of the parish’s capital campaign.

Nonprofit organizations can tell slightly different – but no less powerful – versions of these stories. The homeless shelter that must turn away people in need because it consistently runs out of rooms. Focus on those turned away to tell this story. The children’s museum that would like to waive the admission fee for more children whose parents who can’t afford the cost of a ticket. Focus on these children and the fun they’re missing.

A good story should have an end point, so here’s mine: Your organization has a story to tell – so tell it. The results could be financially rewarding for your organization.

I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions regarding best practices and the professional services of the Steier Group.